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This Week in Clean Economy: West Coast 'Green' Jobs Data Shows Promise

New report finds that California, Oregon, Washington and B.C. could triple the number of clean economy jobs to 1.5 million, with synchronized policies.

Mar 16, 2012
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger walks between solar panels after at

A group of West Coast leaders has made its first attempt to quantify how many jobs have been spurred by the clean economy, a sector that includes engineers who design solar, wind and efficiency technologies and the electricians who install them—as well as train conductors, recycling collectors and organic farmers.

On Tuesday, the Pacific Coast Collaborative unveiled the results of a study it commissioned that found the region supports 508,000 clean economy jobs, or about three percent of the regional workforce. The group includes government leaders from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The report is an effort to show private industries and public sectors that clean economy investments and policies are paying off.

Federal and state support of the clean economy has come under unrelenting scrutiny in the wake of the failure of Solyndra, the taxpayer-backed solar firm that went bankrupt and fired 1,100 workers.This week, Republicans in Congress started to demand data on the number of jobs that can be credited to federal green incentives as they consider whether to renew the policies.

Speaking at the launch of the Pacific Coast report in Vancouver, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said the new regional data offers "proof that our actions are already working."

"Now we want to go even faster," she said.

The consultants hired to do the study—GLOBE Advisors, a Vancouver consultancy, and the Center for Climate Strategies, a policy group based in Washington, D.C.—concluded that the three states and British Columbia could triple the number of clean economy jobs to 1.5 million by 2020, if they synchronize renewable power and clean car mandates and green building codes, and pour similar higher levels of investment into the sector. Today, the four governments have "a patchwork of policies and incentives programs, many of which are short term or sporadic in nature," said Paul Shorthouse, co-author of the report and director of special projects for GLOBE Group, the parent company of GLOBE Advisors.

The study, the "West Coast Clean Economy," took five months to complete. The researchers consulted with governments on their clean economy policies, gathered hard data on industries and jobs from companies and earlier studies, and modeled potential scenarios for leaders to stimulate job creation across five green sectors. The sectors are: environmental protection and resource management, energy efficiency and green building, clean transportation, clean energy supply, and knowledge and support, which includes green job training programs.

The study revealed that the clean economy accounts for about $47 billion of goods and services produced in the participating jurisdictions, or 2 percent of their total GDP. That sum could increase nearly threefold to more than $140 billion by 2020.

California came out on top in the report, due mainly to its large population. The state attracted 85 percent of green investments that flowed into the region and boasted more than 60 percent of the clean economy jobs. Washington ranked second on jobs, accounting for 16 percent of the positions, while British Columbia and Oregon had about 12 percent and 11 percent of jobs, respectively.

Methods for calculating clean economy jobs are still being debated among economists. In the United States, newer analyses usually rely on the green jobs definition developed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010. The agency counts more than 330 green industries out of nearly 1,200 total U.S. industries.

In 2011, the Brookings Institution, a policy research organization, released the first comprehensive survey of the nature and size of the national clean economy using the bureau's definition. The study found that 2.7 million Americans were employed in clean economy industries in 2010. California, Oregon and Washington accounted for 17 percent of all clean economy employment, it showed, or 461,000 jobs. Overall, the 13-state U.S. West had the largest share of jobs relative to its population compared to other regions.

The Pacific Coast study used the same approach as Brookings, with slight differences. Unlike Brookings, the authors included rail and natural-gas vehicle industries, as well as companies that design and build walking and bicycle paths. Further, the Pacific Coast study doesn't include jobs in nuclear energy or green chemical industries.

Despite those differences, both reports found that most clean economy jobs today are not in clean energy, but in non-energy related environmental sectors, such as recycling, pollution mitigation, organic farming and sustainable forestry. The Pacific Coast study said that 60 percent of jobs are in those areas.

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